Truthful Beauty

My brother Scott and I walked down the main drag one summer evening in a cute little part of town in Indianapolis called Broadripple. Quaint little window displays entertained my artistic leanings, and independent restaurants serving eclectic cuisines made for adventurous foodie fare. Because of the late hour, college students from nearby Butler University romped up and down the sidewalk ready for a night of partying. They made for a raucous crowd.

When I noticed many attractive young girls wearing smoky cat eye makeup and sparkly tight clubbing clothes, I knew my red blooded brother noticed them as well (understatement!). The abundance of beautiful girls made me, a late twenty-something mother, feel self-conscious in the crowd. Oh how I wished I could be that young and vibrant again! Scott seemed to read my thoughts. He rescued me from my inward comparisons and turmoil by saying something like, “Sin tries to masquerade as beautiful, but in the end it is only pedestrian and cliché. True beauty is rare and always unique.” I knew what he said was profoundly true even before I could ruminate on the implications.

A few years have passed since that night in Broadripple, and I agree with my brother’s observation even more. We live in a culture that holds both beauty and ascetics in high esteem, but our very definition of beauty has been corrupted so much so that the profane and vile can now be called “art”.

To illustrate my point, I randomly picked a song on the today’s Billboard Top Ten. Consider the lyrics of the chorus of Maroon 5’s Animals:

Baby, I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

When we read these words in black and white away from catchy beats and the cute pop star, they are seen for what they really are: ugly. Without thinking, millions sing along to a song about a man who sees women as something to be stalked, preyed upon, and conquered. He’s a common beast driven by instinct without reason or sense.

YUCK!

And what of our books, our magazines, our TV shows? They are no better!

Just this past weekend, I flipped through the channels stumbling upon show after reality show depicting the lives of perfectly manicured mostly rich men and women. Ladies draped themselves in diamonds and silk and kept house in high rent districts. Dudes drove fast cars and sported Armani suits and Rolex watches. To the casual observer, they seemed to have it all. They need only open their mouths, however, to reveal the darkness ruling their lives. (“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34) Bitter rivalries, jealous forked tongues, and immature pettiness painted these grimly colored worlds.

America has chosen to be entertained by this lot of worldly characters to her shame. We value glamor and fame over sacrifice and hard work and focus on outward appearances more than the heart. Yesterday we cared more about Kim Kardashian’s pornographic picture in Paper Magazine than the stunning photographs captured from a probe named Philae that Europeans managed to land on a comet. Seriously… what is wrong with us?

The answer to this question is simple but profound: we don’t know truth, so we don’t recognize true beauty. Christian philosopher and apologist Ravi Zacharias observes, “God’s Word commands us to, ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 96:9). Beauty must be bounded by the very character and nature of God.”

If we want to know what beauty really is, we must look to God’s Word and His character for a truthful definition. Here are just some of God’s Names. I fell in love with Jesus even more when I began to explore His Names because they reveal His character:

Author of Peace (1 Corinthians 4:33)
The Crown of Beauty (Isaiah 28:5)
Comforter (John 14:26)
Consuming Fire (Deuteronomy 4:24)
Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)
Disciplinarian (Hebrews 12:6)
Excellent (Psalm 148:13)
Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11)
Father (Matthew 6:9)
Friend (Matthew 11:19)
Good (John 10:11)
Helper (Hebrews 13:6)
Light of the World (John 8:12)
Love (1 John 4:8)
Merciful (Jeremiah 3:12)
Purifier (Malachi 3:3)
Refuge (Jeremiah 16:19)
Righteous (Malachi 4:2)
Servant (Isaiah 42:1)
Teacher (John 20:16)
Truth (John 14:6)
Wise (1 Corinthians 1:24)
Wonderful (Isaiah 9:6)

Because God is Love, we know that unloving things and actions cannot be beautiful. However, we also understand through examination of the Scriptures that love must also be truthful, because God is Truth. It is therefore ugly, for example, to withhold a truthful correction to spare another’s feelings. God Himself disciplines us because it is in His very nature to be a Good Father.

True beauty is at its very heart holy, or set apart. Beauty is not seen in something as cliché as batting eye lashes or syrupy sweet flattering words. Real beauty is demonstrated when God’s character is put on display.

The sleep deprived mother who comforts her sick child is beautiful. Outwardly this woman may not look beautiful. She probably has bed hair and may even carry an extra fifteen pounds more than she’d like, but inside her brilliant heart is more precious than rubies (Proverbs 31:10).

The husband that loves his wife, serves her, and gets dirty wading through the trenches of her heart is beautiful. God’s Word says that when a husband loves his wife unconditionally, he purifies her as Jesus purifies His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-26). As a husband reflects God’s attributes in his daily life, God receives glory.

When we see Christ, we see beauty incarnate. However, even those that don’t know the Name of Jesus can learn of God’s character by simply observing His creation. “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they (those that have never heard of the Name of Jesus) are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

When we stand agape at the vastness of the stars, we get a glimpse of God’s magnificence and power. The Psalmist joyfully declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament the work of His hands!” (Psalm 19:1)
stars
When we watch the sunset over ocean waters
sunset

or gaze out over mountain peeks
mountain
or stare amazed at the perfectly knit together body of a newborn
newborn
we intuitively understand that there is a Being greater than us at work. The lessons of creation teach us that God is wise, powerful, intelligent, and interested in both grand displays and the smallest details.
But let’s not forget God’s other less recognizable displays of beauty.

Jesus wept with others when they grieved.
jesuswept

He championed the cause of the oppressed and the broken.

He gave up His glory for this:
jesuscross
Out of great love Jesus died. He was mocked, scorned, rejected and humiliated. Men did not recognize the beauty of the man they tortured. The prophet Isaiah, seeing 700 years into the future, describes Jesus in agonizing detail, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Do we see that God’s definition of beauty is infinitely more rich, true, and GORGEOUS than the world’s pathetic counterfeits?

Michael Card said, “A hunger for beauty is at its heart a hunger for God.” Mr. Card is right! May we be like King David and say, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1) The Apostle Paul, writing from a damp dark prison cell, said with great fervor and joy, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

Jesus Christ is altogether beautiful. May we seek to discover and know Christ in all His loveliness and forsake all else.

Undaunted

flower-in-sidewalk

I. Am. Tired.

Not just tired. I’m overwhelmed. I feel like a small animal wanting to weasel her way behind the potty during a thunderstorm. All around me is busyness. My thoughts are in turmoil. Things aren’t peachy in my world, and I’m brave enough to say so.

Someone I am friends with on Facebook recently wrote that she was thinking about leaving social media because she was tired of the façade. “Our lives are not all rainbows and unicorns,” she lamented. She was right to put off by the hypocrisy. Unlike every posed, cropped, filtered, and smiling picture, life is not perfect. It’s not whiny or a “buzz kill” to say so. It’s real.

I would like to expand on my Facebook friend’s point to say that life is especially difficult for Believers. God’s Word warns us that life will be hard for Jesus followers. However, every time the Lord speaks to us of inevitable suffering and trials, He then reminds us of our anchor through the storm, our ultimate hope in Christ, and His precious promises. A few verses to exemplify:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2 (Notice James says when you encounter trials, not if.)
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
• And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10

I had already written all of the above and much of the rest of this post when I came across a horrifying news report on CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHa5WemS2Kw.

I cannot fathom the trials and suffering the linked news story is covering. ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is seeking to eradicate all Christians in Iraq by burning churches with dozens trapped inside, beheading children and placing their heads on stakes in terrorizing displays of barbarism, raping and murdering women in front of their bound and helpless husbands, and hanging and crucifying (yes, I said crucifying) men. It’s systematic genocide. Right now, 40,000+ Christians are running for their lives in the northern, mountainous, and arid region of Iraq some 50 miles from a safe border. President Obama has responded to their desperate plight by authorizing air strikes and humanitarian aid. I agree with the POTUS’s decision but wish he would do more. In fact, my flesh says, “Bring the rain.” All my pacifist tendencies vanish when I see a picture of a little girl dressed in a blue doll dress, hose, and shoes who is missing her head. Oh the horror. Yet, I have not only prayed for my Christian brothers and sisters, I have also prayed for their persecutors (Luke 6:28). While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). I have also prayed that many would come to know Jesus the Nazarene because of the faith of Iraqis Christians.

After viewing the news and hearing of ISIS boasts that they “will raise the flag of Allah in the Whitehouse,” I go back to the scriptures I copied and pasted rather flippantly and hang on tight to their words. I am not arrogant enough to think that persecution will not come to my part of the world. In fact, I believe that in my life time and especially in my children’s, suffering for Christ’s name will be an ever present reality in the west because of our rapidly changing and (often) disintegrating culture. To quote the Book of James again: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” I am thankful for the hope that I have in Christ and for the crown of life that awaits me. This world, this utterly broken, sinful, often scary world is not my home. I am glad that one day God will erase the injustice on the planet when He comes in fierce justified wrath. By His spoken Word His enemies will be erased.

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

Until that great and terrible Day of the Lord, Jesus tarries. He waits with supernatural patience and love so that more of His lost children living in a temporal world would come back to their eternal home.

The personal “trails” that I began describing when I opened this post are completely superfluous compared to what my brothers and sisters around the world are going through. It is sobering to view my blessed cushy life from a wider perspective. My prayer after learning about these things is this: May I and the rest of the Western church be found faithful in our freedom. Amen.

However… 

Because Jesus loves me, He takes the time to comfort me. He used a strong man of God to bring a word of encouragement just this past Sunday. So, although my issues and battles pale in comparison to the persecuted church (and should not really appear in the same sentence), God is still taking care of me. Wow. How great is our God! And so, I continue to write very gingerly. I do so because I know I am probably not alone in my weariness. 

Yes. I admit it. I’m weary of doing good. The mind is the battlefield, and I am exhausted by fighting off the shooting arrows that attempt to break me down and tear me to pieces- particularly when I am low on gas. I have to fend off 1,000 lies a day with the truth of scripture. Lies that whisper that God doesn’t know what He is doing when He sets up boundaries, lies that tell me I’m not good enough or unlovable, lies that tempt me to quit running the faith race in favor of the concrete curb of Lukewarm Christianity.

Some days, when I’m feeling particularly blue, I look around at others living for themselves and wish my life were as easy. Answering to no ultimate authority is a fun illusion. Sin has a season. Living selfishly feels like flying- until you slam head first into a mountain.

Mercifully, God let me crash and burn when I was 18. Yes, I said mercifully. God loves those He disciplines. Many will never fall as hard as I did and thus never see their folly until it is too late. The consequences of selfish living hurt worse than anything I could ever verbalize here. I hope I never feel that much pain again. I still can’t openly talk about that period- perhaps someday. However, when all around me was ash and rubble in my late teens and early twenties, I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life: living “free” by only serving myself led to slavery.

The Lord showed me that to gain my life, I have to lose it (Matthew 16:25). Unlike my Godless friends, I should pray about everything before taking any major life step (I’m working on being able to say “do pray” instead of “should pray”). I can’t work wherever I want, live wherever I want, go to whatever movie I want, make plans however I want, dress however I want, and say whatever I want. “Jesus is Lord” is not some trite profession. He is my Master and King. I must do His will out of the abundant love and gratitude for all He has done for me. Back in 2005, I promised to be a slave for Jesus. I wrote down that promise and signed my name. I still have this covenant/contract in a small Dollar Store frame as a reminder. The Lord needs no such reminder of my promise. I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t kept my word every day at every moment, but I can say that this promise has dictated the course of my entire life. I am His and He is mine.

It’s not an easy life. The road is so narrow.

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)

How much easier would Moses have had it in this life if he would have chosen to enjoy palace life, drink, and be merry? Instead, he elected to walk a much more difficult path that included standing up to Pharaoh at the risk of his life, running from armies, circling mountains in the desert, and leading a grumbling, displaced, and disobedient people. Moses wisely understood that true riches had nothing to do with what the world could offer. He knew I AM, and willingly gave up everything in exchange for Him who is altogether worthy, beautiful, and holy. Paul confirmed this truth when he said, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

As I (finally) finish up what has proven to be a difficult post, today’s headlines have shifted from the dire situation in Iraq to the apparent suicide of Robin Williams. Robin was a man who had it all according to the world: riches, fame, a beautiful family, a successful career. All of these could not bring him true lasting happiness. Christ said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Mark 8:36) It’s a sobering lesson.

Daily I choose to sacrifice my wants and wishes as the men and women of God have done before me. I wait and hope and reach. Jesus encourages me to keep going when He says, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) Truth is right. I have seen miracles. I have lost nothing and have gained everything. The joy that a life with Jesus brings is not the world’s shallow version found in such things as weekend entertainment, a big house, or public praise. The joy and gladness that I possess in Christ sustains me through the suffering and hardships of this life. I don’t need all the other stuff that is supposed to make me happy. They amount to garbage compared to the all surpassing joy of knowing Jesus.

One day in my early twenties, I drove down a highway leading me to Indiana University where I was taking classes during my senior year of college. A song called I Can Only Imagine started playing on my favorite and very secular radio station. When I listened to the lyrics, my eyebrows furrowed. “What is this cheesy song?” I thought. After a few more seconds of Velveeta, I checked the frequency to make sure I hadn’t accidentally nudged the dial to another station. Nope. I was still tuned into my regular spot. The more I listened to this (what at first I thought to be a) ridiculous song, the more uncomfortable I got. A man fervently belted out the chorus,

“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine.”

Obviously, for the gentlemen singing, the prospect of meeting Jesus brought great hope. For me, facing Christ invoked only one feeling: fear. I knew I wasn’t right with God. I broke His laws daily and had to acknowledge that a just Deity would rightly punish me for my behavior. Although I was inwardly quaking at the truth coming through my speakers, I could not muster the strength to turn the dial or lower the volume. Even in my Godless state, I thought it disrespectful to change the station.

There were two things that I didn’t understand that day in my car:

1. Mercy Me’s I Can Only Imagine broke all records in Contemporary Christian music. The single became so popular that secular radio stations were forced to play it because the demand for the song was so high.

2. The Lord used this piece of music as the impetus to my new life in Him. My fear of death and of God drove me to begin to search for answers to life’s important questions. This fear was God’s mercy in action. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) I had lived a decade for myself in the pursuit of happiness but had never found it. The man singing had what all of us ache for- a peace that surpassing all understanding.

When I hear I Can Only Imagine now, I can smile because I am no longer afraid. My hope in Christ and the final glorious rest that awaits me is my all surpassing hope and thus the anchor in my soul.

The Solid Rock (Edward Mote)

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name. Refrain:
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

Submission: The Other “S” Word

two-become-one2

My son absolutely loves to play basketball. He’s good at it.  One of the highlights of dreary Januarys and Februarys the last couple of years has been Noah’s Saturday morning games.  I praise God for making Noah’s strong body and for creating his sharp mind whenever my son is on the court.  It’s a joy to watch him play. 

On one of those Saturday mornings this past winter, my husband was helping out by keeping time and running the score board. Jason was positioned between both competitors’ benches. He did his volunteer job well, encouraged the players, and helped out the coaches however he could during timeouts and halftime as he was often called to do even in their absence.  I sat across the court watching the game with my daughter and the rest of Noah’s supportive family. 

Unfortunately, my son and his team, who were largely a successful winning team, had a bad day. As the game got away from them, my son got more and more frustrated.  He wasn’t used to losing and missing shots, and his little nine-year-old body showed more and more signs of stress with each run of the court. 

During a timeout towards the end of the game, Noah went to his father in tears. I could see Jason trying but failing to console him.  A few seconds later, Noah was told to sit down on the bench and pass a colored armband he was wearing to a teammate so that that person could enter the game in Noah’s stead.  Instead of handing the armband to his teammate graciously, Noah threw it to the ground with great flourish and a frustrated grunt.

I watched the whole scene unfold quietly until Noah was disrespectful to his teammate. I have zero tolerance for that kind of behavior.  Knowing that the outcome of the game had already been decided (Noah’s team was down at least 10 points with less than 2 minutes remaining), I made a quick decision to pull my son from the game to teach him to never act that way again.  I knew it would be a tough lesson, but I preferred to address unsportsmanlike conduct while Noah was still little. If left unchecked he would morph into a rude teenage ballplayer.

I rose from my seat and began to march determinedly around the perimeter of the court to get Noah while the coaches and players continued to discuss strategy during the timeout. However, when my feet began to make the final turn to approach Noah’s bench, Jason’s gaze stopped me in my tracks.  He lifted a palm and mouthed, “Stop!”

Before reacting in any way, two thoughts went through my mind almost instantaneously. One, I was just sure that Jason hadn’t seen Noah throw his armband, so I was also certain he had no idea why I was approaching the bench. Two, Jason’s mortified expression told me that my approach was embarrassing him.

Instead of pulling Noah out, I chose to obey my husband’s plea to “stop”. I turned on my heels, gritted my teeth, and went back to my seat still determined to address Noah’s behavior at the end of the game.

A few minutes later, the ending buzzer sounded. As players and family started to mingle in the center of the court, Jason approached me and said with a tone of finality, “Do me a favor.  Don’t ever do that again.”

I was nonplussed and angry. When I tried to explain that Noah had thrown an armband and been unkind to his teammate, Jason wanted to hear none of it.  My reasons for trying to pull Noah out didn’t matter. 

“Just don’t do it again,” he repeated firmly.

I intuitively knew the subtext of what he was communicating without ever hearing the words. I understood that Jason felt emasculated when I publically encroached on his territory as he parented and volunteered. Although the thought never crossed my mind, Jason felt I was saying to him and to the world watching that I didn’t trust him to do a good job- that I didn’t believe in him.

A war began to rage inside me. As I attempted to bite my tongue, my mind whirled with thoughts that went something like:

“I’m Noah’s mother! I have every right to make parenting decisions!”

And

 “How pathetic that he is so insecure! Why does he feel the need to impress spectators… strangers really?” (I’m just being honest here.)

But mostly, my will reared up and quietly raged:

“HE CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”

A still small Voice tried to pour water on the flames threatening to burn a hole through my body and incinerate my self-control.  

“Love is patient… love is kind…”

After honoring Jason’s initial wish for me to sit back down, I felt I had compromised and been considerate of Jason’s feelings. So, when he dismissed my explanation after the game, I had no patience left.  I also didn’t feel particularly kind. 

As I quietly fumed about not feeling truly heard, the Spirit whispered Ephesians 5:22:

 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

I inwardly balked at the instruction. By the time Jason and I made it to the car, I chose to squash God’s wisdom in favor of the whip that was my tongue.  I laid into my husband with the full force of my selfish will while ignoring God’s.  I said something about his pride being ridiculous (ignoring the pang of guilt when I felt the hypocrisy of my words).  The conversation quickly degenerated to a shouting match as we fought harder than we had in years.  The worst part was that I disrespected my husband in front of my children.

In short, I failed the test God had given me. Sigh.

Today I want to talk about the very volatile subject of submission. It’s such a difficult topic that I have tried multiple times to begin this entry but have been too spooked and overwhelmed to continue after typing only a few sentences.  The main reason tackling the subject has been so hard is because I know I haven’t even come close to mastering the command in Ephesians 5:22.  My doubts surface and say, “How could I possibly teach on submission without being hypocritical?” 

After praying for guidance, the Lord showed me where to begin: with the above story that demonstrates my failure. Ha! Of course!  Jesus requires my naked transparency and commands me to “first take the log out of my own eye [which I am currently working on], and then I will see clearly to take the speck out of my brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

I could spend time writing about what Jason did wrong in Noah’s game day scenario, but I won’t.  I am only responsible for my own actions/reactions.  Jesus asks me to work on ME and my plank, which brings me to my first piece of advice to wives.  In order for you to learn Biblical submission:

Work on you and you alone

Don’t be tempted to waste time asking God to change your man. Don’t spend your days making “helpful” suggestions on ways he could improve.  Your need to fix your hubby will only push him away because he’ll probably just hear your suggestions as critical nagging.   Solomon, who knew more about women than most said, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” (Proverbs 21:9) Again the wise king warns, “A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike…” (Proverbs 27:15) Yipes!  I certainly don’t want my lover to view my words as a constant dripping faucet! 

Instead of trying to play the role of the Holy Spirit in our husbands’ lives, we need to learn self-control and trust the Lord to deal with our mates in His time and in His way.   Our job is to try our hardest to let the Spirit change us and lead us to righteous behavior while encouraging our men and championing their strengths!  Oh how many marriages could be saved if we ladies could just follow this simple advice?! To put it most succinctly, a selfish woman dwells on the faults and failures of her partner and whines to Jesus for Him to change her husband.  A godly woman bravely asks, “Jesus, change me!”

It is in the spirit of that righteous “change me” prayer that I plunge into the controversial topic of submission with full steam and great faith.   The word submission can make even the godliest of women bristle, and with good reason.  Since the fall of man, men have used their strength and power to subdue and lord over us. For millennia and with few exceptions, women were seen as second class citizens, given no real right to participate in government or leadership, and granted no voice to speak out against cultural practices that continued to propagate our weaker status.  Women were used as pawns or property in political jockeying for power and control.  We couldn’t own property.  We couldn’t vote. We couldn’t drive.  Even today women around the world are mutilated, beaten, forced to hide behind veils, and enslaved.  Just last week, Nigerian Islamists stormed a schoolhouse where girls were taking exams because the militants thought it wrong to educate women.  Jewish men still pray the Talmudic prayer, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has not made me a woman.”   

Jesus never intended women to have this “less than” status. In fact, He was always elevating the role of women during His earthly ministry.  There are so many examples I can’t list them all, but here are a few:

  • In a culture where it was forbidden to teach women Scripture, Jesus did so boldly.
  • It was forbidden for a man to speak to women in public.  Jesus did so many times and expected women to demonstrate the same faith as men.  Jesus even spoke with the Samaritan woman and revealed to her that He was the Messiah.
  • Jesus gave the woman caught in adultery grace and treated her with dignity unlike her accusers who simply saw her as disposable property. 
  • Christ commanded Mary Magdalene to go and tell others that He had risen.  Mary was the first to take part in the Great Commission.

The rest of the New Testament is in agreement with the Gospels on the role of women. With one sweep of his pen, Paul gave women equal status with men when the apostle wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Even though God has demonstrated that He loves women and assigns the greatest of value to us, we have an enemy that seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. Because Satan hates God, he also hates women who are created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27) Therefore, the war against women rages on. Therefore, when I begin to speak to wives on submission to their husbands, many women fear that I am asking them to take a step backward and voluntarily agree to shackled wrists and feet.  I can assure you, Dear Reader, that this is not what I am asking!

(*I wish I didn’t even have to write this, but I feel compelled to pause here to address the devastating and always critical circumstance of spousal abuse lest someone misunderstand what I am trying to say. Please do not misconstrue my meaning here. I would never in a million years think it is okay for any man to abuse a woman. In fact, if a husband mistreats his wife, he has made the gravest of error and completely disregarded the Ephesians 5 mandate for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. A battered woman should escape a dangerous situation, and God is faithful to provide that way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13)).

To continue, what I am requiring is that we Christian women trust God and His wisdom over our own. For Yahweh declares, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) God has demonstrated that we can trust Him time after time.  Take a step of faith with me and trust Him at His Word. 

So what does God say about submission? Let’s read Ephesians 5:22 in context to get a better idea of what the Lord is asking of us wives.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,  that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,  that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.  For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-32)

OK. Taking a deep breath and starting with the most difficult command:

“Wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.” Ladies, I’m sorry to say there is no wiggle room here.  God made it clear He was serious when He led Paul to write that last part: as to the Lord.  We are to submit to our husbands as we submit to Jesus.  Ouch!

When I first was confronted with “as to the Lord”, my stomach fell to the floor and fear rose up to choke me like a noose. I cried out, “How can you ask this of me, Jesus? I can easily submit to You because I trust You completely.  You are GOD!  But submit to Jason like I submit to You?  You’ve got to be kidding!  Asking me to trust Jason with my LIFE when He has hurt me, failed me, and proved that he is all too human many times is terrifying!  This is too much!!!”

After my initial freak out, though, I began to reflect on the results of disobeying the command to submit to my husband on an individual level. For years I wished for a husband that was more involved.  I was frustrated with Jason’s lack of leadership in my home.  Instead of stepping up to lead, Jason took the road of passivity.  I was unbearably alone in training up our kids in God’s ways.  I walked around with a huge invisible weight on my back and resented the fact that Jason never seemed to want to help carry the load.  However, I had to admit to God and to myself that on the rare occasion when Jason did try to jump in and assist, I would criticize his efforts.  “Fold the clothes this way,” I’d say. “Don’t park there… park over THERE!”  Jason withdrew more and more preferring a comfy chair and the remote over a conversation with me.  And no wonder! Watching a game or hanging out with the guys spoke more to his heart and provided more validation than he usually got from his own wife.  

Then I wondered what the results of lack of submission in marriages were on a national level. Just a cursory glance told me that it was not good.  The divorce rate in America had risen 80% since 1970.  It is not a coincidence that radical feminists’ ideals took root in the hearts and minds of our daughters during this same period of time.  In 1960, only 11% of children lived apart from their fathers.  In 2010, that number had risen to almost 30%. I discovered that I was not alone in my frustration with Jason’s lack of interest in spiritual matters.  A typical congregation was 61% female and 38% male meaning that on any given Sunday there were 13 million more women in church than men.  

While feminists fought and won many battles for women’s rights, I observed that their once noble quest for equality had morphed into a movement that trampled boys. A few statistics that show this disturbing trend:

  • Women now surpass men in college degrees by almost three to two.
  • Boys are 30% more likely to drop out of school than girls, and girls consistently outperform boys at all levels of academia.
  • Boys are more likely to commit suicide and/or struggle with depression than girls.

While society has spent the last few decades empowering its girls, we have largely ignored the heart cry of boys who grow up to be disillusioned unmotivated men. There is an epidemic of prolonged adolescence in America.  A Failure to Launch is not just a movie title, it is a way of life for millions for 20 to 30 something men who still live at home.  Studies show, for example, that men ages 18-27 spend more time playing video games than 12-17 year-old boys!  While the guys flounder, teenage girls and young women encourage each other with chants of, “You go girl!” and sing songs with a united theme that says “I am woman, hear me roar!”  What’s worse, if ladies were honest, many would have to admit that they silently believe that men are bumbling characters not as capable of “doing it all” as the feminine sex (just watch your average American sitcom to see men scoffed at and marginalized). 

But can women do it all?  The stats above and current trends say that even if we try to hold down the fort alone, there is a tremendous cost for our stubborn need for independence.  While it is increasingly acceptable for a woman to begin and raise families alone because of the “who needs a man anyway?” mindset,  a woman’s need to have a husband and a child’s need to have a father cannot be erased even by the most militant of feminists. United Families International writes, “As men who would fulfill [husband and father] roles no longer take their place, women increasingly turn to government for support. They [radical feminists] are the greatest supporters of government subsidies and are angered when the taxpayer isn’t eager to give enough support to daycare, government health care, even school lunches. In short, they choose to have the government become their husband. What radical feminists seem not to realize is that by exploding the family, they are destroying the very institution that has protected and provided for women over most of human history.”

The irony of the postmodern “enlightened” feminist is that she is not modern at all. She is simply living out the curse God pronounced on humanity after the fall.  For the Lord said to Eve after she had disobeyed God by eating stolen fruit,

“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;

In pain you shall bring forth children;

Your desire shall be for your husband,

And he shall rule over you.”

(Genesis 3:16)

I want to focus on the phrase “your desire shall be for your husband.” I used to think that this meant that women would have an insatiable craving for their husbands’ time and attention.  After closer examination of the original Hebrew, however, I now understand that the Lord was speaking of Eve’s desire to usurp her husband’s position of leadership. When the Lord said to Eve, “And he shall rule over you,” He declared that Adam’s sinful nature would cause him to overpower her with ungodly dominion.  Clearly with the fall in Genesis 3 we see the beginning of the battle of the sexes.  Women will always be clawing to supplant men’s God given role of authority in the husband/wife relationship, and man will, in his fallen state, abuse his natural strength and position of power.  Scripture reveals that it is therefore my sinful nature that seeks to be critical and control Jason.  The “I can do it better” attitude, the “my way or the highway” need to control, the subtle jabs, and vicious comments all can trace their roots to the curse. 

Beneath my desire to control and reign in my relationship with my spouse, however, is a softer beautifully feminine wish to be taken care of, fought for, desired, and loved. The untarnished paradise of the Garden calls out to that fiercely strong woman inside. This renewed Julie is brave because she is open, vulnerable, and willing to risk her heart by putting her life in God’s hands.        

The world sees those who submit to authority as inferior and views those who are in positions of leadership as greater. However, in God’s economy, the world’s view of what’s important has been flipped on its head.  “The first are last and the last are first.” (Matthew 20:16).  We can look to none other than Jesus for an example.  The Son submitted to His Father in everything, but in no way was Jesus inferior to His Daddy.  Christ said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38) Jesus’s role was to submit to the Father’s will though He was in all ways equal.  Jesus submitted out of His great love for us.  Philippians 2:5-8, one of the most awe inspiring scriptures in the whole Bible says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

A woman is asked to submit because her role is to follow in the husband and wife relationship.  However, her value is still equal to that of a man as I’ve already demonstrated using scripture. This is a super important yet subtle concept to grasp! It takes more supernatural strength to trust and obey God in submission than it does to follow a deceived worldly heart and take control.  Submission requires us to open our hands in total surrender and trust in God’s promises. 

Instead of shrinking back from God’s command to submit to Jason as unto the Lord, God asks me to demonstrate great courage and strength by being the most vulnerable I have ever been.  Even my female body beautifully echoes the bold, selfless, openness the Lord planned in my marriage relationship.  With great trust and faith, I lower the shield around my heart and take a step out into an unknown world where Jason leads.  I am the steel in my husband’s spine because he knows I believe in him.  The Spirit whispers, “Be strong and courageous for the Lord will be with you wherever you go!” (Joshua 1:9)

What does God require of my husband in return for my trust in his leadership? Let’s look at [the best part] of Ephesians 5 again: J

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,  that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.  For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-32)

God asks Jason to love me as Christ loved the church. When I read this requirement, I know Jason got the tougher job!  Jesus’ love for the Church is perfect love.  Christ’s “love is patient, His love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. God’sLove does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-9)

Every girl dreams of being loved in such a way. I already am loved like this because Christ loved me and gave Himself up for me.  Because I am satisfied in God’s love, I can offer Jason grace when he fails, when he proves that he is human, and even when he isn’t obedient to love.

I began with a story of failure. I’ll end today’s entry with a tale of victory.  And true to the blog’s promise, it is the story of a miracle.

One day when I was first exploring what it looked like to submit to my husband on a day to day basis, Jason and I drove down a local road with Zoe and Noah in the backseat. We were ruminating over where to dine out for dinner.  He asked me, “What do you want for dinner?” Thinking this was a great opportunity to practice submission, I replied, “You pick!”  (For the record, I’m not saying that a woman can never pick a restaurant.  However, when a man hasn’t led much in a marriage relationship, it’s best to start out small.  Let your man try his hand at leading in a small matter.  He’ll gain confidence as you respond each time he leads with affirmation and encouragement.  Finally, your husband will have the courage to lead in the bigger more critical areas.)  As soon as Jason made a restaurant suggestion, I almost responded in a way that was borderline cliché by suggesting something else more to my liking even though I had just asked him to choose!  I am ashamed to confess the strength it took to not complain about his decision and instead say, “Okay, let’s go!”

We pulled into the parking lot and walked inside the little Mom and Pop place. That’s when God began to show off.  From the moment we sat down at our table in the dimly lit restaurant, I was absolutely astounded by the reward Jesus gave because of my one teensy act of obedience.  The owner of the restaurant greeted us and spoke tenderly to my children as a grandfather would his grandchildren.  We knew within seconds that he was a Christian.  His well worn finger pointed to the dark brown walls that surrounded us directing our eyes to pictures of smiling kids.  He said with pride, “These are my children!”  The owner explained that he worked and ran the diner just so he could make money to visit these pictured orphans in South America and minister to them.  He then went to the kitchen and brought out gifts for my children.  My daughter got a beautiful bracelet made by one of the owner’s orphan girls, and my son got a hand crafted wooden toy made by a young boy.  The man then ended our experience with a free desert for both Zoe and Noah.  As we prepared to leave the restaurant, I stood behind my husband who was paying the bill.  A small whiteboard sign sat on the floor near my left foot.  It read something, “I work so I can give.” I stared at the back of Jason’s dark haired head fighting back tears and thought, “Lord Jesus, how have I limited this man that You love because of my pride? By Your grace, God, help me to never get in the way again.”

God says that our work is to believe in the One He sent, Jesus Christ (John 6:29). Women, I call on you to do the hard work of believing that Jesus, the Word of God Who became flesh, is faithful to keep His promises.  Ladies, we work so we can give. By believing in God’s wisdom, we are empowered with the strength to submit and trust in our husband’s leadership.  In our obedience, we give to our husbands the most precious gift we could ever give them: the strength and encouragement to do the work God has prepared for them to do since the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10).  Our men will in turn give us the love we have always longed for and craved.  It is in this give and take that we become one.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery.” (Ephesians 5:31)

 

SOUCRES:

http://thisismarriage.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/the-failure-of-feminism/

http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/04/opinion/bennett-men-in-trouble/

http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/where-are-the-men/

http://www.livescience.com/5505-society-ignoring-boy-problems.html

Progression

I haven’t written in a while because it seems I am suffering from a bit of writer’s block. Even though I know what I am supposed to write about- everytime I start to type the next entry, I have a hard time getting past the first few sentences. I don’t want to explain why right now. Later.

I promise though- I haven’t forgotten this project or the finish line. Lord give me strength.

Until I manage to write another entry, I’ll attempt to keep my readers with a bit of poetry. There are five poems below. They tell the story of my life in loose chronological order. Please be forgiving and know they are all works in progress- especially the last and most recent.

Praise and honor to His Name.

RESTORATION
Smoking wicks
Want to burn
But need a little air
A crushed reed
Can grow strong
And see its own repair

Hope can come
In small boxes
And yummy ice cream cones
In sunny days
Pink wool sweaters
Talks on the telephone

Smoking wicks
Turn into flame
When love breathes around
Tender shoots
Mature in blankets
Made of pillowy down

We hold treasures
In jars of clay
They’re broken, maimed and marred
But that’s okay
We have a Father
That can heal our scars

Red hot fires
Are built slowly
Starting deep in the soul
Beautiful trees
Mature to give
Fruit that makes others whole

UNLIKELY QUEEN
A graceful fawn
Dances and leaps
In fields of green
A new day dawns

Batting lashes
Beckon a lover
She blindly leaps
Wild, unabashed

Decisive break
A doe is lost
Smashed and brittle
Without her mate

A tail goes white
Exposed, alone
Searing sun wilts
Green hearts to die

Tall and robust
10 points and strong
Knows there’s promise
Sitting in dust

Velvet brown eyes
Pour golden truth
Seeps in white spots
Her soul replies

Royalty sees
Beauty covered
Calls out in love
Crowns a fawn queen

SOWING DREAMS
I choose to drive far from the city
And into bucolic looming fields
I choose to turn away from the smoke
And cast down dusty crimson walls
I choose to find a way to yield
Even when my chest burns
I choose to climb from crushed white metal
To throw a sorrowful seed
I choose to watch the long kept kernel die
Because standing there in green rolling hills
I choose to believe in whispers
And dream new dreams of glass slippers
When I cannot perceive
I will see
I will hope
I will love
I choose.

THE STAND
Not a fist
Or a wall
But a golden bloom

Family sings
Nations call
Self pales like the moon

Sharpened swords
Truth beckons
Shimmering vast deep

Craven crushed
Gallant souls
Bow low and reap

War II

Hotel Fall Break 2013

Hotel Fall Break 2013

I have already written about warfare in a previous entry. I would suggest visiting that post before reading this one if you haven’t already done so.

As stated in my earlier in my blog, I experienced spiritual attacks almost nightly in dreams when I was first learning about spiritual warfare. In this season of my life, God was training me to battle in the spirit.  Ephesians 6:10-17 quickly became “signpost” verses:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Notice that we are to “stand our ground”, a mostly defensive action.  Believers have the high ground because of Jesus’s victory on the cross.  Christians are protected by the strong and mighty tower of God.  The Lord is our fortress!  Ephesians 6 is a blueprint (worthy of an entire book) for how to defend ourselves from attacks when they come.  Admittedly these assaults arrive in various forms, not just in dreams.  Trust me, though, if you are living a life worthy of the high calling, they will come.

During the years of nightly assaults, I fervently prayed for pleasant dreams and peaceful sleep. These prayers went unanswered.  Instead, the nocturnal fights continued, many times to the point of mental and physical exhaustion.  I had an academic knowledge in my head that the Lord was stronger than the enemy, but this knowledge hadn’t truly clicked in my heart because it still fluttered with fear when I thought about the hideous creatures, plot lines, and screaming lies that tormented me while I slept.  For several months, I had a hard time going to sleep because I knew what would inevitably happen when I closed my eyes.  Hotel stays were the worst!  I made it a practice to tune alarm clock radios to Christian music whenever checking into a new room because I knew I would be visited by demonic spirits at night if I had not cleansed the environment.  Demons of lust were particularly present in hotel rooms.  Because guests have easy access to erotic movies without the threat of getting caught, it is not hard to guess why. 

I feel I should pause here to say that I never had these kinds of ultra-sensory dreams before giving my life to Christ.  It wasn’t until I became a Christian and really started praying and fighting sin patterns that I ruffled Satan’s feathers enough to pay any attention to little ol’ me. 

In 2007 when my family moved to a new apartment, my dreams were suddenly flooded with demons of anger.  These creatures had features that were contorted in ways reminiscent of Edward Munch’s The Scream yet infinitely more ugly and colorless.  Rage would seep into me like black fire when surrounded by indescribable demonic hatred.  I’d wake up angry and then have a hard time maintaining composure when met with the slightest offense throughout the day.  Although my husband thought me crazy at the time, the attacks got so bad that I finally prayed through my apartment anointing walls and doorways with oil.  Soon after this exercise, I learned through conversations with neighbors that our apartment’s previous occupants were frequently heard screaming at each other through shared walls, and more than once cops were called due to domestic violence issues.  It was only when I prayed specifically against these spirits did they cease to bother me at night. (Some evil can only be rooted out by prayer and fasting. Mark 9:29)

Through time and experience, I found I was specifically susceptible to attacks under certain conditions:

  1. If I had unforgiveness in my heart.  That unforgiveness gave the enemy an open door that would have otherwise been closed.  (2 Corinthians 2:10-11 “To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.”)
  2. If I was engaged in unrepentant sin.  God did not and will not let me get by with continual disobedience.  He will send chastisement in many forms.  One of the ways He disciplines me is to remove His protective hand to allow spiritual attacks.  When faced with such raw evil, the only logical place to turn back in repentance is the safe loving care of Abba.
  3. If I took medicine.  I know this might be    controversial, but I stand by what I am saying here.  If and when I take medicine, over-the-counter or prescription, I proceed with special caution.  Drugs weaken cognitive defenses and open hidden doors in the mind. 

I am grateful that Father, in His infinite wisdom, did not answer those fear laced prayers to take the attacks away, but instead chose to allow these experiences to continue until I was taught by them and strengthened. Only by practicing do we get better, and as I fought night after night I became a warrior.  I learned how to discern quicker, get victory faster, and finally rest in God.  The most important lesson I learned was this: Jesus is more powerful than Satan.  In fact, Satan and his minions are reduced to quaking inept masses in God’s presence.  Just saying, “Jesus” sends the demons packing.  Let me say that again so that it might sink in for real even if you have heard this truth a thousand times but still struggle with fear: just speaking the Name of Jesus binds evil.  God demonstrates His sovereignty and complete rule on earth and in the cosmos when we, His earthly soldiers made of clay, say, “JESUS!” Hallelujah! 

As the months and then years continued, the attacks became less frequent.  When my husband became a believer and I had his prayer covering, they stopped almost altogether.  If and when I experience a demonic attack these days, God is usually trying to teach me something, or it is because of one of the three reasons listed above.

One evening last fall, I was praying fervently for my neighbor’s salvation before going to sleep.  That night, the Lord gave me a dream.

I stood on a road gazing at a field in the distance.  It was winter.  I saw thousands of black birds on the ground. In my spirit, I knew the birds were unclean spirits.  I was shocked by their number- there were so many!  As soon as this thought came to my mind, the scene changed.

I was on my bed looking up towards the ceiling.  My room was bathed in light (even though it was dark outside).  The birds from the field were flying as a united flock above me swooping through in a continuous rolling sea of black.  Even in the presence of such evil, I was completely and utterly calm.  Peaceful even.  I sang quietly as the unclean spirits flew, “I love You, Jesus. I love You, Jesus.” 

I woke up still trying to physically and mentally sing the same sweet song, “I love You Jesus.”

I understood most of the interpretation of the dream as soon as my eyes opened and then more as I thought about it in the coming days. The field I saw is where the seed of the Word of God was sown in Amy’s heart just as in the parable of the sewer in Matthew 13. 

Matthew 13:3 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.”

Jesus, explaining what this portion of the parable meant to His disciples says in Matthew 13:19, “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”

The soil of Amy’s heart was hard packed just like the soil along a path so that the seeds of God’s Word cannot penetrate. In the dream, I recognized the birds for what they were: Satan and his demons.  Any seeds of God’s Word sown on the ground of Amy’s heart were furiously eaten before they could take root. As soon as I understood their purpose, they turned to fight me.  However, because perfect love casts away all fear (1 John 4:18), they found no purchase in or around me to cause fear.  I was free of them.

God gave this dream to instruct me on how to proceed in praying for Amy.  I knew I had pray AND fast.  There were many demons behind the scenes working to keep her in the dark.  Amy has much influence.  Her conversion would affect many others- so it is no surprise that Satan would send so many to steal the seeds sown.  The dream also served as a warning and a promise: Trials would come when I prayed against these dark forces, but I would continue to rest with joy and peace.

If this wasn’t thrilling enough, Jesus gave me a real life physical confirmation of the dream.  Sometimes He does this to emphasize a dream or vision’s importance.  I learned this pattern from reading Scripture.  In the Bible, when something happens twice, the reader should take notice! 

The very next day after seeing the black birds while I slept, my family and I left for a mini vacation on Fall Break.  We chose to stay in a state park to enjoy the spectacular foliage.  Our hotel had this amazing indoor/outdoor pool situated among the trees.  Only a piece of glass separated guests from the outside, and swimmers could easily duck underwater and under the glass divider to emerge outside.  The water was heated to the temperature of bath water, so even though the thermometer accurately reflected late October temperatures in Indiana, visitors could still swim outdoors comfortably. 

Because we already knew about the super cool pool, as soon as we checked into the hotel, we quickly changed into our bathing suites.  We were beyond stoked to swim among the fiery leaves.  As we chatted and swam with steam rolling off the surface of the water, the sun began to set lighting up the sky and the trees with bright pink and orange hues.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  Suddenly though, a great number of vultures began to fly overhead.  Not one, two, or fifteen.  Dozens of black vultures spiraled over our heads starting from not far above us and then going up, up, up to an impossible height.  I honestly had never seen so many birds of prey in my life.  The breeze shifted and I could smell the scent of death.  The birds had obviously been attracted to something dead in the forest.

As the vultures swirled above, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end.  Yes… I took notice.

Last December, I fasted and prayed against the unclean spirits attempting to eat the seeds sown in Amy’s heart in accordance with the instructions of the dream.  I will write more about subsequent experiences since December 2013 soon.

As for the coming trials predicted in the dream…

My husband changed jobs to work in ministry in January.  It was a huge step of faith because of a great reduction in pay.  After accepting the position, our furnace went out.  In the past two weeks, both family cars have broken down.  Our water heater went out last week too.  My dad had a heart attack and nearly died a week and a half ago.  There is much controversy at my church that I cannot begin to describe here.  I’m only hitting the highlights, and I don’t get the feeling that the trials will end any time soon. 

But I don’t care. 

If this is what it takes to win just one heart for God, I will endure it with gladness.  Opposition means I am on the right track.  Satan cannot steal my joy.  I am hidden in Christ, and I dance in minefields. 

As I drove home from work today to finish this blog post, I was suddenly overcome by the fact that Jesus wants me.  He sees me, a child with many flaws and an imperfect past, and still wants me more than my own parents.  He wanted me so much that He chose to die in my place. 

He wants Amy too.  He desires a relationship with her.  May my heart beat to the song of that aching desire until she is His.

Luke 15:20 “So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Guided

I am currently teaching a women’s Bible study. The focus of this week’s lesson was on the (often mysterious) Holy Spirit. I was so moved by the study and the group’s discussion on the subject, that I knew I would need to add to the story I had already planned to write in this entry. Consequently, I spent a lot of time teaching today and then end this post by telling a tale about one particular instance when I was led by the Spirit!

Here are some of the verses about the 3rd Person in the Trinity that help to explain His role in the lives of Believers:

• The Spirit teaches us what to say. (Luke 12:11-12)
• He prays for us when we don’t know what to pray. (Romans 8:26-27)
• He gives us power! (Acts 1:8)
• He guides and teaches truth. (John 15:26-27)
• He produces fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-25)
• He advocates for us and helps us. (John 14:15-26)
• After belief in Christ, the Spirit seals us to guarantee our inheritance in God’s Kingdom. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

These are just a few passages (and there are many more!) that describe the absolute vital role the Spirit plays in Believers’ lives. It is clear that in order for Christians to walk in power, we must begin to hear and heed the soft whispering voice of the Spirit.

A question I often get from others when I relay some of my experiences and conversations with Jesus is, “How do you hear the Holy Spirit?” That is a loaded question. Volumes of books have been written on this subject, and I am not on par with great theologians. What I can relay is what I have learned from experience. God has taught me as I searched to know Him more, and I will try my best to explain what I know here.

First of all, there is no magic formula or four step program to guide you in discerning the Voice of God. Also know that we will make mistakes and misunderstand sometimes! Paul says that “we see through a glass dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), and for this reason, we will hear wrong or misinterpret what is the Lord is trying to say. However, when we hear incorrectly, God still sees our heart and our desire to please Him. He is the Good Shepherd that will gently and firmly redirect us with His shepherd’s staff whenever we get off course. So, don’t let a fear of hearing wrong keep you from stepping out in faith to try to listen!

Secondly, the Spirit speaks differently to each of God’s children. Just like every parent approaches their kids uniquely based on their individual personalities and gifts, the Spirit will speak differently to each one of us. I have a couple of friends that can sit down and study the Bible for hours and hours because the Lord has chosen to gift them with research ability. God speaks to them mightily as they read His Word and logically consider the facts. These friends get joy from looking up the original Hebrew and Greek meanings of individual words, and they cross reference passages for long stretches of time. These friends own Strong’s Concordance and use this resource often, and almost all of the pages in their beloved Bibles are highlighted, notated, and tattered from use. The amount of understanding and wisdom God gives them through their study is amazing, and it is their delight to spend long afternoons mining for nuggets of truth in the Word.

Unlike my friends, I cannot sit for hours studying. It is my prayer that the Lord will help me be more of a student of His Word like my friends, but I know that I will never be a detailed researcher. It is not the way the Lord made me! I approach the Word conversationally. I can almost hear Jesus speaking directly to me when I read scripture. Always as I read, I reply back to my King in both silent and audible words of repentance, wonder, joy and praise. The Lord has also given me the ability to retain information that I hear. When I first gave my life to Christ, God generously afforded me many hours a day to bathe in His truth. I needed to be washed from the wrong thinking and disobedience that had gotten me into great messes! I spent almost all of my free time listening to sermons from great teachers like Ravi Zacharias, James McDonald, Alistair Begg, John MacArther, Charles Stanley, and David Jeremiah. Whenever I traveled in my car, I tuned into Christian radio to hear God’s Word or listen to His music. I soaked up every morsel like a sponge. Many times a sermon would come to speak to me exactly where I was, meeting my needs in God’s perfect timing. The Lord used great Bible orators as His vessels to speak to me and guide me into greater truths. The knowledge I gained from these precious years in His Word is still guiding me today as the Spirit prompts me to remember this learned wisdom on a daily basis. Finally, I often perceive the Spirit’s voice in prayer and in dreams and visions because Jesus, in His perfect will, has chosen to speak to me in this way. Again, God approaches His sons and daughters differently, and the Lord responds to all His children uniquely and always in the perfect love of a Father.

A couple of words of warning: When trying to discern God’s Voice, we must never approach Jesus as if He were a genie in a bottle or a vending machine. God is altogether valuable and worthy, and He deserves our total respect and overwhelming gratitude. He responds to humble hearts that are desperately seeking Him first, instead of the works of His hands. The Lord’s mission statement from the beginning was to restore our broken relationship so that He would be our God, and we would be His people (Jeremiah 31:33). We see over and over in His Word that Father desires a relationship with us, and we would be foolish not to want a relationship with Him above all things! I hope you can clearly see from what I’ve written here that just as we must cultivate our earthly friendships, we must spend time with our Heavenly Father by talking to Him in prayer, learning about Him in His Word, and meditating on His wonderful attributes and creation. As we hang out with Jesus, we begin to recognize His voice (John 10:27). There are no shortcuts to intimacy.

Unfortunately, my last word of caution is to point out that we also have to compete with the enemy’s voice trying to clamor for our attention. The Lord will never… and I mean NEVER… say anything contrary to His Word. It is our duty as Christians, therefore, to know what the Word says and to examine all messages in the light of scripture (Acts 17:11)! If you hear a message, sermon, voice or book saying something different than what the Bible says, run fast and pray harder! Satan is constantly throwing fiery lying arrows at us in his desperate attempt to get us to doubt God and live in fear (Ephesians 6:16). We must be diligent to use the sword of the Word of God and the knowledge of the truth to combat these falsehoods and assaults on our faith (2 Corinthians 10:15).

Very recently, I asked the Lord a direct question about the location of misplaced car keys. I prayed this prayer in anger and in a state of unforgiveness as I believed (wrongly as it turned out) that my spouse had lost them. After I prayed, “Where are my keys, Lord?” in heated frustration, I heard a “voice” answer, “They were thrown away.” I believed this lie, and of course the result of this false belief was that my anger at Jason grew even more intense. Days later when the keys were finally found in my yard, it was obvious that the voice I heard was not Jesus’s but Satan’s. Again, I believe the reason our enemy’s voice came through so clearly to confuse and destroy was because I was sinning in my anger. In white hot fury, my tongue cut my beloved husband to the quick, and I said things no Christian should say. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” I obviously gave the enemy an opportunity because of my unbridled temper, and the slimy opportunist took it! Today as I prayed before work, I heard the Lord say that He would not answer my prayers until I sought my husband’s full forgiveness for the unholy way I treated him in my unrighteous selfish anger by verbalizing an apology face-to-face. God said He would not hear me until I did (Matthew 5:21-26). The unresolved conflict felt like an unseen wall between me and my King during our conversation, and I resolved then and there to apologize as the Spirit commanded.

I can rejoice in the above lesson. While the enemy hoped to create lasting division in my relationship with my spouse, the Lord turned this experience around for good. Jason, being more mature in this area than I am, was gentle and kind even after the keys were found and he was vindicated. Because of his self control, we were reunited in love within hours after the blow out. As for me, I learned an absolutely vital lesson about how the enemy plots and schemes, and I will be more wary next time when anger temps me to sin. My faith in my ability to hear God was shaken until I examined scripture in Ephesians 4:26-27. Once I learned more of God’s truth on this particular subject, that faith was restored. In addition, I will be harder to trick next time! Hallelujah and praise Jesus because He “causes all things to work together for the good for those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose!” (Romans 8:28)

Finally, I must be absolutely clear when I say that the Spirit speaks to those who will listen- as in heed His instructions. Many times, Father’s will is obvious without a huge billboard or booming voice because we are mercifully and graciously given instructions for all circumstances in His Word (as the above situation clearly demonstrates). Those that don’t read the Word, therefore, are extremely vulnerable to grave error, for God declares “My people are destroyed by lack of knowledge!” (Hosea 4:6) Don’t be destroyed! Seek God’s will in your life by reading His Word! For instance, God asks us to “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Papa God does not want His child to marry a non-Christian because, as I can personally testify, it causes great heartache and division in the home. Although God is gracious, slow to anger, and merciful, if His child disobeys these explicit instructions in outright rebellion by marrying an unbeliever, then he/she will have a harder time discerning the Voice of God until true repentance takes place. Furthermore, what’s sobering and very scary is that those that continue in this kind of outright rebellion will eventually be given over to a “reprobate” mind (Romans 1:28). Basically, God says that after continual disobedience He will eventually cease speaking to these folks at all! Our Just Judge will leave defiant people to wonder through life without truth because they chose to abandon it. Eventually, these people will spend their lives chasing their own lusts and desires without any conviction by the Spirit because their hearts have turned hard and arrogant. The final result is that they believe improper behavior acceptable and even champion it. This is what has happened to many today in America. People have refused to listen to God’s truth, but instead have created their own value systems based on culture, political correctness, and feelings. The end result of these choices has been and will continue to be great pain, suffering, and finally utter destruction. Isaiah says to the reprobate, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” May this very stern warning cause us to tremble before the Mighty Judge in continual repentance and to seek His will above our own at all costs.

When I first starting seeking God’s will, I timidly began to try to hear His whispers. If I heard the Spirit, I would, like Gideon, almost always ask for a “sign” of confirmation. Jesus would often answer my request for a sign in ways that made it impossible to doubt that I heard Him correctly. Even now the Lord still gives me signs in special circumstances (read my post entitled Beloved written on November 17th, 2013). However, as I continue to mature and obey the Spirit, God’s voice gets louder. As this happens, Abba Father is less willing to give a sign of confirmation when He speaks. Instead he says, “No. No sign this time, Julie. You know My Voice. I’m stretching Your faith.”

An example of this came about a year ago when I got an invitation to attend my neighbors’ Halloween party. Now if you know me at all, you can probably guess that I would not normally attend a Halloween party. First of all, I have studied the dubious history behind this “holiday”, and it seemed hypocritical for a Christian to participate. Secondly, I don’t enjoy parties that are centered on alcohol consumption, and I knew this particular gathering would be. However, because I had been praying for my neighbors and specifically for my neighbor, Amy, I desperately wanted to develop a relationship with her. This seemed like opportunity for me to spend time with her on her turf in a non-confrontational way. So, I prayed about it asking for God’s will. “Should I go, Lord?” I asked. That night, I had a dream. In the dream, I was at my neighbors’ house at the Halloween Party. I was dressed up in a white sweatshirt with a huge red heart in the middle. My “costume” was literally LOVE. When I woke up, I knew the Lord wanted me to attend the party and love on my neighbors while I was there. I was given no additional “sign” of confirmation. I just had to obey. (In case you are curious, no, I did not dress up as “love”. I admit that this was my plan until I started looking for wire headbands with hearts sticking up like antennae. As I began shopping for heart accessories, God stopped me by explaining that I was being too literal and that coming dressed up in actual hearts would be too heavy handed! LOL!)

The day of the party came, and I was understandably nervous. Amy is in an atheist group, and I knew many of her friends from this community would be there. I felt like I would be a sheep among wolves! When I got to my neighbors’ house, however, I was excited to be there. Amy has the gift of hospitality and humor, and I felt welcomed and happy within a few minutes. I had fun catching up with old friends from high school and enjoyed laughing at the different creative costumes. Towards the end of the party, however, something strange happened. Amy came up and hugged me hard. In tears she said, “Why are you so nice to me? Why are you so loving?” In a rush of words, Amy began to refer to a time when she was sick and my kids made her cards and I brought her soup and medicine. Amy said as she hugged me and petted my hair, “My friends weren’t as nice as you were to me when I was sick!” and again she asked, “Why are you so nice to me?” After Amy finally ended the hug, I stood in the middle of the festive atmosphere dumbfounded. A few minutes later, my friend came up to me to hug me again. And then again! Amy hugged me over and over for minutes on end with tears staining her lovely face and smearing her beautifully applied makeup. “I love you,” she would say. All I knew to say in return was, “I love you too.” Every time my arms wrapped around her beautiful frame, I prayed and asked God to remember this precious soul. I asked Him to break through the pain and unbelief in her heart so that Amy would be His child and that she would call Him Daddy.

I believe with all my heart that He will answer my prayers for Amy. And, wouldn’t you know it, the Lord was right! If I had listened to my “church girl” opinion on the matter of attending a Halloween party, I never would have gone. However, I obeyed the Spirit’s leading even though it made no earthly sense. The fruits of that decision are lasting. After the party, Jesus swung open the door to a friendship that is still developing. Amy and I no longer see each other as adversaries but as friends. I love her dearly. Praise God!

Months later, the Lord brought the original dream to memory out of the blue one day. He reminded me of the white sweatshirt with a heart on it. Suddenly, a minor detail hit me like a lightening bolt. The sweatshirt I wore in the dream was the very same sweatshirt I wore when dancing on the sidelines at Indiana University the day I sacrificed my will for God’s so that the Lord would hear my prayers for Amy. (See last post) This realization was the exclamation point and cherry on top! God had seen my love in action as I danced at IU for Amy, and He used that same love to propel me to go the party. Wow. Only the Lord could arrange things so perfectly!

The mysterious, wonderful, magnificent Holy Spirit is what gives us power to impact our world. He tells us what to do, and then gives us power to do it! He teaches us truth, and then brings that truth back to remembrance in times of need. He comforts us, indwells us, and lets us live a life that is truly separate to shine for the world to see.

“Father God, I pray that my readers would have ears to hear what You are trying to say through this broken vessel. Draw them near. Help them to begin to seek and hear your Voice. Fill them daily with Your Spirit so that Your children would be a beacon of hope, truth, and light in this dark world. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.”

Beloved

My life verse is:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 emphasis added)

Abiding denotes a relationship. If you live together, you know each other. I want to know my Savior. It has been my experience that prayer, like nothing else, allows me to know Him. In prayer, I can, by the power of the Spirit (the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead), think and feel what God thinks and feels. Look at these verses to see this amazing promised confirmed in scripture:

1 Corinthians 2:9-16 says:
However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ
.”

I can humbly yet resolutely confirm that God’s mind directs my thoughts and even my feelings. One Sunday quite a few years ago, for example, I was praying during communion when I began to think of my sister-in-law out of the blue. Suddenly, I was completely overcome with grief and sadness. I had a very great burden to pray for her, and my heart ached in my chest as I wept for her unnamed pain. As I drove home with my husband that morning, my eyes continued to ooze tears. In an impassioned plea, I looked over at a confused Jason in the driver’s seat and said, “We need to pray for your sister!” Without revealing too much about a very personal situation, the next day I was to learn why I had felt such grief. My sister-in-law’s long term relationship had ended with painful betrayal the day the Lord asked me to pray for her.

Through this experience, I knew my King because my heart was truly abiding with His for those few moments in church. I discovered with absolute resounding clarity that Jesus is compassionate in ways I had never understood until then. His compassionate heart literally leveled me, and I intuitively knew the feelings I experienced were only glimpses. My weak body could only handle small doses of His infinite oceans of empathy.

Hebrews 4:13-16 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
.”

Christ’s mind moved me, His vessel, to grieve and empathize with my sister-in-law’s pain even when my physical mind had no idea about her situation. Then, because of grace, the Spirit began to make intercession through me, a used vessel, as I begged God to show her how lovely, precious, and beautiful she was even in the face of rejection. The Lord refused to leave my sister-in-law alone in her grief. How deep the Father’s love for us! To know His love changes one forever.

I have a neighbor that I love dearly. For the sake of privacy I will call her Amy, because Amy means beloved. Amy married one of my brother’s best high school friends. For this reason, I began praying for Amy and her husband long before they serendipitously moved across the street. She is a proud atheist and a beautiful, gregarious, generous person. At first, conversations with her were awkward and confrontational. I worked to convince her that Jesus was real. One day, after responding to Amy in another long-winded admittedly argumentative private message on Facebook, I took a walk with my family to depressurize. As my husband and children strolled ahead on a neighborhood bike path, I fell back a bit to speak to God about our “debate”. My mind was twirling and running in the aftermath of the heated discussion. I wondered aloud to the Lord if anything I had written would get through. Suddenly, my rampant thoughts were interrupted with what I can only describe as the heart of God. For a moment, I saw my neighbor as He saw her. My Father was her Father too. She was His creation. Beautiful. Loved. Treasured. Father’s feelings for Amy, His beloved little girl, hit so hard that I could barely continue to walk. Then I heard the Spirit whisper, “I just want you to love her.” At that moment, I was convinced that arguments would not win her heart, only love would.

And so I love Amy. Not with a fake phony love. But with the supernatural love of the Father in heaven who loves His child even as she denies and mocks Him. Remember my life verse? Jesus said “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” All my defending and apologetic arguments for the Christian faith were in my own strength and flesh. God told me as I walked down that little path that all that talking and debating amounted to nothing. However, if I loved Amy with the love He gave me, she would come home.

I have heard Christians say that unbelievers cannot live happy lives without God. I disagree. What my brothers and sisters in Christ fail to realize is that lost folks don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t understand supernatural joy and peace because they have never experienced it. If someone has never heard the Lord’s whispers or felt the Spirit quicken, then how can I explain it? To atheists, my stories probably sound like utter foolishness. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

I can only continue to intercede and ask that God draws those precious lost souls I am burdened for to Himself for Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

Sometimes the burden for the lost literally leaves me breathless. One night as I prepared to go to sleep, I approached the Lord in prayer. I closed my eyes and saw the throne of God. My King sat in light and looked down on me in love. I fell to my knees and cried, “Holy!” Then, after I told Jesus I loved and adored Him, the Spirit began to intercede for the lost though me. I starting calling out for the salvation of my friends, loved ones, and neighbors. After a couple of seconds of speaking names, I knew I would repeat myself or forget important people without some sort of organization.

So, I looked up at God’s face hidden in light and asked Him for something to write on. If I could symbolically write each person’s name down, the process would help me keep track of who I had prayed for and who I still needed to bring to the Lord’s attention. To my surprise, God did not hand me paper, but a rectangular piece of wood about 3 feet wide and six inches long. So instead of writing, I began to carve the names of those I loved into the wood Christ gave me. When I had finished carving the first a name, I sat the piece of wood to the side, and asked for another piece of wood. I continued like this for a long time. I cried and carved and stacked pieces of wood. Eventually I was completely overwhelmed at the enormity of the stack of wood I had built. “There are so many, Lord!” I cried. Finally, when the burden lifted, I fell into an exhausted sleep. I dreamed that night and woke up to the sound of my own voice singing to the Lord.

The next day, I drove to work as usual. My kiddos were quietly reading in the back seat, so it gave me time to think about last night’s prayer time. As I reflected on these events in the light of day, it all seemed so strange! So, I said, “Lord Jesus, I need a sign that it was You directing my thoughts and actions last night. I would love a confirming sign showing me You heard me.” I didn’t know how God would answer my prayer- it was so specific- but I knew He could.

I walked into work and sat down at my desk in the front office of a school office. About five minutes later, I was engrossed in a task when I heard my boss, the principal, say, “Have you seen this, Julie?” I looked up and saw him holding this:

gracepaddle

Apparently the “grace board” had showed up on campus over the weekend, and it was strangely leaning against the building during car line drop off. My boss decided to bring it inside and didn’t quite know what to do with such a strange object.

This was a goose bumps moment. I smiled and shook my head. Astounded. Yep, that was the word. I was astounded. God had obviously heard my cries. The Lord of the universe had heard my prayer, and the Spirit was there guiding me the whole time! But how could I explain this? Would anyone understand?

As I continued to reflect on what the Lord was trying to communicate, I was stunned. The above picture is obviously of a paddle- typically a tool used for punishment. However, because grace is carved into the wood, I knew God was pointing to this:

kingofthejews

The day God’s Son hung from a tree, a sign was posted above Him. Although it was an attempt at mockery, every word written was true. Carved in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, were the words: “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”.

It should have been my name carved in the wood. I should have died on that tree. All those that I had prayed for that night- they too deserved punishment because they have denied their Creator in unbelief or aloofness. They were among those in the crowd who mocked and laughed at God’s Son that dark day.

However, Jesus, King of the Jews, is unlike any other king in history. Even while He suffered and died at the hands of hateful men, He prayed, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!” As His blood was spilled to ransom the world, a tool of punishment became the ultimate tool of grace.

We are not on this earth to live moral lives.
We are not here to seek our own happiness.
We are not here to survive and endure.

We are here to abide with Jesus as it was in the beginning before the fall.
We are here to declare the work of the cross so that others might also experience the free gift of grace.
We are here to love as He first loved us.

Beloved, it is my prayer that you would know Him. From my soul I cry out to you and for you. He is Lord! One day soon, His Bride, His beloved, His Amy, will cry out in victory as she sees Jesus coming back for her:

“Listen! My beloved! Behold, he is coming, Climbing on the mountains, Leaping on the hills!” (Song of Solomon 2:8)

Gifts

When I got married, I was far away from God. Then, in His great mercy, Jesus called me to Himself. Although I rejoiced in my rebirth, the longer I walked with God, the more I could see that there was a problem. A BIG problem. I was living unequally yoked with my husband (2 Corinthians 6:14). Simply put, Jason and I were not walking on the same narrow path that leads to Christ. In fact, we weren’t even going in the same direction. Jason was heading south. I was heading north. God never intended His children to live this way because it is painful, annoying, frustrating, and divisive all at the same time.

As I reflect on this time, I am aware perhaps for the first time of how difficult my transformation had to have been for Jason. In the span of a few short months, almost everything that connected us when we had first dated dissolved away. I was no longer interested in the same movies, TV shows, or songs, I had no interest in partying or attending shallow gatherings where conversation was blurred by alcohol, and I had very different ideas about how to raise our baby girl.

At first, my priority was to “get Jason saved”. In my zealous desire to see his salvation, I did absolutely everything wrong. I remember one day in particular. I stood in our bedroom crying like an idiot sobbing into his chest, “I don’t want you to go to hell!” I lamented. Poor guy! I would give anything to have a video of this encounter so I could see the look on his face. It must have been a mix of amusement and annoyance. How did he ever endure my dramatics?

While my heart was in the right place, I was trying to do the work that only the Spirit can do. Instead of taking my fear for Jason’s soul to the only Person that could do something about it, I tried to win him for Christ using my own efforts. I anointed his pillow with oil, his shoes, his coat, and his car seat. I lectured often, probably making him feel guilty and put off, instead of feeling loved and drawn to the light.

Slowly, when I saw that my manipulations were clearly having no effect on Jason, I began to retreat emotionally. I stopped trying so hard. Instead, I directed my energies outside my home. I sought solace and fellowship with Christ, with my parents and brother, and with a Christian friend that I met at work. I poured out my heart to my friend instead of to my husband. I dreamed of serving the Lord in many ways, but never really included Jason in any of those visions and plans.

The end result of this was obvious: my heart became almost completely detached. I went to church by myself. I prayed and worshiped by myself. I even traveled without Jason or my kids. After a few years, because I had not invested my time and heart into my marriage, I no longer cared about my marriage. I just wanted out! “He doesn’t understand me!” I complained to God! “He’s difficult. He’s stubborn. He doesn’t love me like Christ loved the church, nor does he have any interest in trying!” I felt trapped and hopeless many days.

The lowest point came when I sold my wedding ring so I could afford to rental truck to move closer to my parents. I wanted to be nearer to the support system that I felt I needed to survive, and I no longer cared about Jason’s opinion on the matter. The ring and our marriage had little or no value.

Looking back at this time, I can see how selfish I was. Don’t get me wrong. Jason wasn’t blameless. But my heart was steeped in self pity and entitlement. God, in His patience and loving kindness, endured my tantrums and toddler like maturity. Hindsight allows me to stand in awe at the Lord. He was doing work in me to prepare me to be a partner instead of an island, and as always refining me in the process. Praise Him Who is altogether holy and Who knows me better than I know myself!

There are two things that kept me clinging to hope and to my marriage vows throughout these years. The first and all encompassing reason was my love for Jesus. I loved my Lord (Lord = King and Master) more than my own desire for happiness. So, I chose to die to myself and lay down my desire for temporal happiness as a sacrifice to my King. I knew from all the hours I had spent studying scripture that God hates divorce. He hates divorce because He is in the business of restoration and reconciliation. In fact, all God’s efforts throughout the history of man have been to restore our relationship with the Father that had been severed in the Garden. How could I not then continue to try to maintain the connection with Jason? I was self aware enough to know that giving up would be because of my own hard heart and selfishness. I also knew others were watching my walk with God- many many others. I prayed for these precious souls almost nightly. They needed salvation just like I did. What would it say to them if I simply walked away from my marriage? What would divorce say to my kids? If I could stand firm and hold fast, I knew that our home would serve as a much better launching pad for their future service and ministry in God’s Kingdom. I had stay married if only for them! Finally, Jesus hates divorce because marriage is the only earthly relationship and institution that echoes Christ’s relationship with the Bride, the Church. This is a great mystery, and I wanted to uncover that mystery! I’ll admit this daily death to self was hard. Hard doesn’t begin to describe it really. It was gut wrenching and heart clinching- especially when Jason failed me. When he hurt me. The worst pain I endured was when he was aloof to the efforts I made to try and build upon our crumbling relationship. Throughout it all I continued with Jason because I loved Jesus. When I was weak willed, He was strong. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The second reason I stuck it out had to do with a promise. In my communion and conversations with God in prayer, Jesus said that Jason was called to youth ministry. He promised that one day Jason and I would plow side by side, equally yoked, in God’s service. This promise was confirmed by a precious few (including the mysterious woman who wrote me the encouraging letter described in my last post). The promise was given before Jason was saved, and it took faith to believe. I may have lacked discipline at this point in my walk. I may have been selfish. The one thing the Lord has always given me in abundance is faith. So, I clung to this promise with all my might during the really really tough days.

As I clung to this promise, the Lord would often remind me of the reasons I fell in love with Jason. Back in the summer before we married in a hurried frenzy, we worked together at a YMCA summer camp. He was one of the associate directors of the camp, and I was a lowly camp counselor. Growing up, I had a reputation for being observant. I had always watched and observed others closely, and Jason was no exception. I spent many days that summer with my probing eyes on Jason. As I watched him work, my respect for him grew. The kids at the camp absolutely adored him. He was brash, cocky, and could handle both the campers and parents in an unfamiliar inner-city population with ease. His brutal honesty was something that I wasn’t used to, but I loved it nonetheless. I knew exactly where I stood after a conversation with Jason. I also recognized and valued Jason for his strengh. There were many days that summer when I struggled to control my assigned group of campers. Because I had had such a sheltered suburban upbringing, I had no idea how to handle the problems and disrespect that urban kids can throw at authority figures. So, when I was failing, Jason would come and literally rescue me. At first, it wasn’t preferential treatment. He rescued all counselors who struggled because he just had a way with the students. Then, after we started dating, he became my knight in shining armor whenever I faltered or was overwhelmed. I felt protected, cared for, and loved just knowing that he was in the same building. Years later, God would constantly remind me of these qualities, and would further promise that all of Jason’s Godly characteristics would be put to use for His glory… someday. So, I hoped, prayed, and believed the word spoken over my husband.

After that low day I used my wedding ring to pay for a moving truck, things started to change. God really began to work on my isolated detached heart. It was during this time that Jesus stripped almost all material things away. The only thing I had left to focus on was my own selfish ways. Eventually, I understood that I had gotten it wrong when I had spent all those hours serving as only a single person should! In typical Julie style, I had run ahead of God hoping to do “big things” for Him. All my ambitions, dreams, and desires to participate in great missions seemed like good ideas. However, the root of those plans was selfish. They were my dreams and really had nothing to do with God’s will for my life. The Lord had to use the hook on His Shepherd’s staff to pull me back to Him and His heart and will. I had to repent of my ways and behave differently! Again, I had to lay down my dreams and die to myself. My desire to “go” and “do” for the Kingdom would have to be put on the back burner for a time while I concentrated on far more pressing matters: loving my husband and children. Jesus beautifully and kindly taught me that being a good mother and wife was just as important to Him as feeding orphans and visiting prisoners.

One evening during this season, I was spending some time walking around the local town square with my twin brother. We were chatting like we always do when my best friend and I get together and looking for some place tasty to have dinner. As we walked passed little boutiques and shops, I saw an advertisement for a beautiful wedding band set. I frowned down at my naked ring finger and prayed a silent repentant prayer, “Lord, I would really like to have a wedding ring.” God responded with one of those goosebump raising replies that indicate He is indeed sovereign and the examiner of all hearts. He said, “You will get a ring when you are ready.” Wow. How much had been said and implied in that one small kiss of a sentence? He knew I was working on changing the direction of my heart- and recognized my effort. Jesus also had said with only a few words that I hadn’t arrived yet. Finally, enclosed in those words was a promise: I would get a ring when my heart had matured and was spiritually ready to be married. “OK, Lord. I’ll wait on Your timing,” I replied.

A few months passed. At first, I impatiently waited for a ring to mysteriously fall from the sky and drop into my lap. That never happened. The daily grind and monotonous tone of my life continued to try to wear down my resolve to stay faithful to my vows and persuade me to wave a white flag of defeat. Throughout this time as always, I sought strength and encouragement to continue in the Body of Christ. Because I loved writing, I found solace and kindred spirits in an online Christian forum. I met so many beautiful people from across the country and around the word during the days I was active in this online thriving community. I established life long intimate connections with a few precious saints including a friend that lives in North Carolina, one in Illinois, one in Washington, and still another in Oklahoma.

One day on the forum, a beautiful artistic lady living on the east coast named Laurel wrote an open message to members describing a dream she had had the night before. Laurel knew she was to paint a picture of two children dressed in black, and that the children were connected to the forum. After reading the description of her dream, I knew that the picture she was describing was a recent photo of my children! When I sent her this particular photograph, she quickly wrote an ecstatic reply confirming that, yes, these were indeed the children she saw in her dream! Laurel promised to begin working on painting my beloveds and to send the painting to me when she was finished. I was flabbergasted! Laurel knew that I was dabbling in painting myself. What she didn’t know was that I had given all my creations away. I thanked God. We do reap exactly what we sow (Galatians 6:7).

During spring break 2008, my daughter and I made a trip to Oklahoma to visit one of my forum friends, Valerie. It was a great time in the Lord! Valerie has four daughters, so Zoe played and connected with her kids while Valerie and I prayed, laughed and fellowshipped. The whole time I was gone, however, I missed my family. In fact, the theme of the entire trip was family. I knew that God was honored and served by how His beautiful daughter and my friend served her husband, daughters, and parents. She was a model of womanhood, and I wanted to be as beautiful as she was! As I drove back home after my few days in Oklahoma, the closer I got to Indiana, the longer the miles became. I was so excited to see my husband and son! I couldn’t wait to get home, throw my arms around Jason, and begin to love him as I had seen Valerie love.

I pulled into my apartment complex and lugged my bags up the stairs. I remember that I was completely alone, so I must have dropped off my daughter to see her grandparents as she had probably missed them terribly while she was in Oklahoma. When I got to my door with my keys in hand, I saw that a big, square, brown paper wrapped package was sitting there waiting for me. I knew instantly from the package’s shape that it was the painting Laurel had made me. When I opened it, I cried. Here is the painting:

kids

Of course the first thing I wanted to do after opening the painting was to write Laurel a gushing thank you note. How could I convey how much her gift meant to me? I sat down at my computer and quickly logged into the online forum with shaky fingers.

Suddenly, Jason burst through the door. He was home early from work. “I have something for you,” he said. His eyes were excited and my heart fluttered. As he walked towards me with purposed steps, he reached into his pocket. To my utter shock, he pulled out a wedding ring. Not just any wedding ring. I recognized it immediately as my grandmother’s wedding ring that had been on her hand for 45 years.

That did it. I SCREAMED with shock and joy at the overwhelming grace of God.

I knew exactly what the Father was saying in giving me these two precious presents on the same day. The fact that the painting and ring had arrived within minutes of each other was… well even now words fail. Jesus was saying that my heart had indeed moved back home towards my husband and children. My heart… HAD CHANGED! I shook. I cried. I worshipped. Only the Lord could have orchestrated such magnificent gifts in His glorious, extravagant, endless love and perfect timing.

I called my mother immediately to thank her for giving me Grandma’s ring. When my mother didn’t answer her cell phone, I left a tearful message of thanks. My throat was thick as I struggled to form coherent but inadequate words. (My mother saved particular voicemail message and I believe still has it in her saved messages today.) What I didn’t know that afternoon but learned in a later conversation was that while I was in Oklahoma, God had spoken directly to my mother instructing her to give me the ring. Of course He had! I’m so glad she obeyed. Only later was I able to tell Mom the whole story and explain why the gift had meant so much to me.

I can’t lie. Things didn’t magically get better with Jason and I after this day. I didn’t find myself at the end of a some fairytale living out the words “happily ever after”. In some ways, things got tougher. However, change and progress is slow but as steady and faithful as the sunrise. Jesus promises to finish the work He begins (Philippians 1:16).

I will end this entry on a very happy note: God did keep his promise to save Jason. When I stopped “trying” and began to love, Jason became curious. (More on this later!) Today, he is currently serving in youth ministry and hopes to work as a full time youth pastor soon. God’s Word and His promises are true (2 Corinthians 1:20).

I have seen miracles, and they are precious and fabulous to behold.